John Halani, ‘giant’ of Ismaili Muslim and Ugandan Asian communities in Vancouver, dies aged 85

John Halani, Uganda’s former honorary consul in BC and a well-known leader in the Ismaili Muslim community in Vancouver, is remembered as a man with a big heart after passing away two weeks ago. He was 85.

Halani died on May 2 after a short illness, a relative said. He came to BC in 1972 after escaping the persecution of the Idi Amin regime in Uganda.

He was deeply involved in helping to resettle Ugandan refugees and immigrants here in Canada, and was also honored by the spiritual leader of the Ismaili community for his services to that cause.

“He was a giant of a man. A big man with a big heart, kind and compassionate,” said Farouk Verjee, a close friend of Halani and a fellow member of the Ismaili community.

“If I may use Jewish terminology – in Yiddish, he was a ‘human being’. He treated everyone with kindness and compassion.”

Halani came to Vancouver in 1972 as a 35-year-old entrepreneur. His assets had been confiscated by the Amin regime when he left Uganda.

According to Verjee, he became directly involved with companies when he arrived in Vancouver.

At the coast6:10Memory of John Halani

Farouk Verjee joins us to talk about John Halani, his friend of nearly 50 years. Halani was a mainstay of the Ismali community and passed away this month at the age of 85.

He first got a job at a glass company, then was able to rent out the Robsonstrasse hotel in downtown Vancouver. Shortly after, in 1975, he ran the Tropicana Hotel across the street.

He went on to have an active political career, including being appointed Honorary Consul to Uganda in BC, and was involved with the Immigrant Services Society of BC and other advocacy groups.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stands next to John and Anar Halani in this undated photo. (Submitted by the Halani family)

Deep family ties

“Funnily enough, our family owned the hotel next door to his – the Gifford Hotel,” Verjee told Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC’s. At the coast† “Our path continued here in Vancouver.”

Although Verjee didn’t meet Halani until they were both in Vancouver, they shared a deep bond that goes back generations.

“John and my sister lived in the same apartment building in North Vancouver, and he invited her over for tea one day,” Verjee said. “As she entered his living room, she saw a photo of John and my father laying the foundation stone of a school in Masaka, John’s hometown.

“Then John realized who my sister was. Serendipity!’ said Verjee, laughing.

In addition to his advocacy work, Halani was honored for his work within the Ismaili community by the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. He was given the title of rai, which means ‘respected’.

“I remember the Aga Khan once saying, the Prophet Mohammed said, ‘Do business with a conscience,'” Verjee said. “We all want to make money and more money, but what do we take with us?

“John took away so much goodwill. There were so many people from the interfaith community, so many people from the African diaspora, and we were proud that he was one of us.”

Verjee said there are plans in the fall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ugandan refugees arriving in Canada, and that there will likely be a consensus on how best to honor Halani’s legacy.

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